International Institute for Innovation in Governance

Rethinking strategy

This paper presents a novel framework for analyzing the formation and effects of strategies in environmental governance. It combines elements of management studies, strategy as practice thinking, social systems theory and evolutionary governance theory. It starts from the notion that governance and its constitutive elements are constantly evolving and that the formation of strategies and the effect strategies produce should be understood as elements of these ongoing dynamics. Strategy is analyzed in its institutional and narrative dimensions. The concept of reality effects is introduced to grasp the various ways in which discursive and material changes can be linked to strategy and to show that the identification of strategies can result from prior intention as well as a posteriori ascription. The observation of reality effects can enhance reality effects, and so does the observation of strategy. Different modes and levels of observation bring in different strategic potentialities: observation of self, of the governance context, and of the external environment. The paper synthesizes these ideas into a framework that conceptualizes strategies as productive fictions that require constant adaptation. They never entirely work out as expected or hoped for, yet these productive fictions are necessary and effective parts of planning and steering efforts.

Van Assche, K., Beunen, R., Gruezmacher, M., & Duineveld, M. (2020). Rethinking strategy in environmental governanceJournal of Environmental Policy & Planning, 1-14.

Mine housing in the South African coalfields

Historically, many mining companies in South Africa housed their white workforce in towns established and managed by the company and their black workforce in single-sex hostels or compounds. By the early 2000s, most company towns had been ‘normalised’, the mining industry had abolished the compound system and homeownership had become the dominant policy goal. We use evolutionary governance theory and the concepts of social disruption and place attachment to reveal two problems: the path dependency of the migrant labour system and the goal dependency of government policy. To illustrate the effects on the residents of a coal mining town, we identify three housing clusters: renters, homeowners and informal settlers. Using findings from a survey of one South African mining town (Emalahleni), we show how the housing system created by normalisation places undue pressure on municipal services. We argue that by ignoring the continued migration and the likelihood of mine decline or closure government policy is putting homeowners at risk.

Cloete, J., & Marais, L. (2020). Mine housing in the South African coalfields: the unforeseen consequences of post-apartheid policyHousing Studies, 1-19.


The book Evolutionary Governance Theory: an introduction has been translated into Chinese and is now available in the (online) bookstores.

Evolutionary Governance Theory is a novel theoretical framework for analysing the evolution of governance systems. It integrates numerous theoretical sources, including social systems theory, poststructuralism, institutional economics, and introduced various novel concepts that allow for a more refined understanding of the continous co-evolution between different governance elements.

Order here: | Amazon

Van Assche, K., Beunen, R., & Duineveld, M. (2014). Evolutionary governance theory: an introduction. Springer Science & Business Media.

Research methods as bridging devices

The purpose of this paper is to investigate the potential, both analytically and practically, of understanding research methods as bridging devices. Methods can bridge theory and empirics, but it is argued that they can perform several bridging functions: between theory and praxis, between analysis and strategy and between past and future. The focus is on those forms of bridging relevant for understanding and effectuating change in governance, at community level and at the scale of organizations.

The paper develops a perspective on methods as bridging devices. It uses the newly minted methods of governance path and context mapping as a case study. These methods conceptually derive from evolutionary governance theory (EGT) and were developed and tested in Canadian empirical research. The case helps to develop insight in features, forms and limitations of methods as bridging devices in governance research and practice. The authors then use the case to further develop the initial concept of bridging more generally, emphasizing the shifting balance between methods as bridging and creating boundaries.

Both the case study and the theoretical analysis underline the necessary imperfection of any method as bridging device. The authors affirm the potential of method to perform different bridging functions at the same time, while revealing clear tradeoffs in each role. Tradeoffs occur with adapted versions of the method producing new strengths and weaknesses in new contexts. In each of the forms of bridging involved neither side can be reduced to the other, so a gap always remains. It is demonstrated that the practice of bridging through method in governance is greatly helped when methods are flexibly deployed in ongoing processes of bricolage, nesting and modification. Governance enables the continuous production of new framing devices and other methods.

The idea of methods as bridging devices is new, and can assist the development of a broader understanding of the various forms and functions of research methods. Moreover, it helps to discern roles of research methods in the functioning of governance. The context of governance helps to recognize the multi-functionality of research methods, and their transformation in a context of pressured decision-making. Moreover, this approach contributes to the understanding of governance as adumbrated by EGT.

Van Assche, K., Beunen, R., Gruezmacher, M., Duineveld, M., Deacon, L., Summers, R., Hallstrom, L. & Jones, K. (2019). Research methods as bridging devices: path and context mapping in governanceJournal of Organizational Change Management.

Comparative Learning in and for Planning Systems

This thematic issue of the journal Urban Planning explores the ways in which comparative studies of planning systems can be useful for gaining a deeper understanding of learning processes and learning capacity in spatial planning systems. In contemporary planning systems the pressures towards learning and continuous self-transformation are high. On the one hand more and more planning is needed in terms of integration of expertise, policy, local knowledge, and response to long term environmental challenges, while on the other hand the value of planning systems is increasingly questioned and many places witness an erosion of planning institutions. The issue brings together a diversity of contributions that explore different forms of comparative learning and their value for any attempt at reorganization, adaptation and improvement of planning systems.

All papers are open access

Learning from Other Places and Their Plans: Comparative Learning in and for Planning Systems
Kristof Van Assche, Raoul Beunen and Stefan Verweij

Rethinking Planning Systems: A Plea for Self-Assessment and Comparative Learning
Frank J. D’Hondt, Kristof van Assche and Barend Julius Wind

Comparative Planning Research, Learning, and Governance: The Benefits and Limitations of Learning Policy by Comparison
Kristof van Assche, Raoul Beunen and Stefan Verweij

Diverging Ambitions and Instruments for Citizen Participation across Different Stages in Green Infrastructure Projects
Jannes J. Willems, Astrid Molenveld, William Voorberg and Geert Brinkman

Building Adaptive Capacity through Learning in Project-Oriented Organisations in Infrastructure Planning
Bert de Groot, Wim Leendertse and Jos Arts

Public Design of Urban Sprawl: Governments and the Extension of the Urban Fabric in Flanders and the Netherlands
Edwin Buitelaar and Hans Leinfelder                       

A Pattern Language Approach to Learning in Planning
Remon Rooij and Machiel van Dorst

Mitigating boom & bust cycles: the roles of land policy and planning

A special issue of Land Use Policy, edited by Kristof Van Assche, Monica Gruezmacher, Leith Deacon

The focus of this special issue is on the struggle by communities in many parts of the world to manage radical ups and downs. The cycles of ‘boom and bust’ are diverse, transcending the often referenced dependency on a dominant resource, and many different responses can be observed.

The special issue presents a global collection of experts who have diverse experiences with, and perspectives on boom and bust. The articles emphasize land use tools (e.g. policies and plans) as means to mitigate the consequences of boom and bust on impacted stakeholders, communities, and regions. The articles present a wide variety of responses to boom and bust, some coordinated into strategy, others less so. In some cases, cycles are anticipated, in others, a community aims at reinvention after a dramatic downturn. 

Taming the boom and the bust? Land use tools for mitigating ups and downs in communities
Kristof Van Assche, Monica Gruezmacher, Leith Deacon

Land use tools for tempering boom and bust: Strategy and capacity building in governance
Kristof Van Assche, Monica Gruezmacher, Leith Deacon

Long run agricultural land expansion, booms and busts
Edward B. Barbier

Dealing with the bust in Vorkuta, Russia
Nikolay Shiklomanov, Dmitry Streletskiy, Luis Suter, Robert Orttung, Nadezhda Zamyatina

Mining towns and urban sprawl in South Africa
Lochner Marais, Stuart Denoon-Stevens, Jan Cloete

The social impact management plan as a tool for local planning: Case study: Mining in Northern Finland
Leena Suopajärvi, Anna Kantola

Evolutionary governance in mining: Boom and bust in peripheral communities in Sweden
Simon Haikola, Jonas Anshelm

Long distance commuting: A tool to mitigate the impacts of the resources industries boom and bust cycle?
Fiona Haslam McKenzie

Regional economic transformation: Changing land and resource access on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island
Etienne Nel, Sean Connelly

Planning strategies for dealing with population decline: Experiences from the Netherlands
Raoul Beunen, Marlies Meijer, Jasper de Vries

Problem-Based solutions from the classroom to the Community: Transformative approaches to mitigate the impacts of boom-and-bust in declining urban communities
Jesus J. Lara

Urban expansion, the politics of land, and occupation as infrastructure in Kinshasa
Filip De Boeck

Futures Special Issue: Linking strategy, long term perspectives and policy domains in governance

Collective visions and expectations for the long- term future shape and influence what kind of governance strategies are used, while the latter encode, perform and transform what is meant by ‘long-term’ governance challenges and perspectives. The unique character of linkages between long term perspectives and strategies per institutionalized policy domain is something deserving investigation: water governance and pension policy each envision a long term, but these are different, and the translation into strategy follows different paths.

This investigation can shed a light on the possibilities and limits of strategies which link policy domains, which transcend their topical or geographical boundaries. Such strategies in some cases can materialize an imagined future for a community, the community associated with the governance system, a community which to a certain extent is always imagined but can nevertheless transform and be transformed by governance. Climate change policy can address an imagined world community, attempt to both create and change that community by strategy which aims to coordinate states and many policy domains within them. Locally, a comprehensive plan can aim to guide the development of a city, an pursue policy coordination through a spatial frame.

In this issue, we intend to bring together an interdisciplinary group of authors to investigate the relations between long term perspectives and strategies in governance. We would like to invite contributions from diverse disciplines, including but not limited to policy studies, environmental studies, public administration, planning, sociology, geography, cultural studies, political science, management studies. We are open to studies of all domains of governance, each marked by their own temporalities, forms of looking forward, remembering and coordinating, each with their own relations to other policy domains.

We argue that a more thorough understanding of the linkages between long term perspective, strategies and particular policy domains [and their values, narratives, strategies] in governance helps to grasp anew the possibilities and limitations of strategy in governance. One can speak of a reassessment of the possibilities of steering, of pursuing public goods at larger scales. Another contribution of this collection can be new insight in the possibilities and mechanics of so-called place based development, here not restricted to local, participatory, ‘community based’ development, but understood as development articulated in and pursued by governance in a particular spatial frame, either inside or beyond the sphere of local/regional/national government.

More information:

The limits of transparency

The paper explores the implications of Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s general systems theory for the current debates on the nature of organizational transparency as an element of good governance. If transparency implies the exchange of information, then it may be taken, at a metaphorical level, to constitute a dimension of metabolism theorized by Bertalanffy’s open systems model. Yet, the model likewise lays bare some of the limits of transparency idea. Bertalanffy’s work on the nature of emergent properties, his critique of the stimulus–response scheme, and his perspectivistic account of the systemic perception of the environment all point in the direction of the impossibility of full transparency. Later systems‐theoretic work on operational closure and self‐referentiality has reinforced and even radicalized these insights, which are shown to resonate with some of the key arguments in the contemporary economics, sociology of knowledge, and business ethics.

Valentinov, V., Verschraegen, G., & Van Assche, K. (2019). The limits of transparency: A systems theory view. Systems Research and Behavioral Science.

Coral reefs and the slow emergence of institutional structures for a glocal land- and sea-based collective dilemma

Coral reefs are subject to multiple stressors. Global stressors include climate change and ocean acidification, while local stressors include overfishing and eutrophication. Some stressors stem from land-based activities, like intensive agriculture or sewage production, while others are sea-based, like fishing or diving. Processes that aim to tackle coral degradation are transpiring on different levels. These include the UNDP’s Sustainable Development Goal 14, and the Coral Triangle Initiative, which foresees the installation of marine protected areas and conservation planning. This paper uses Evolutionary Governance Theory (EGT) to understand the current processes of changes in governance influencing coral reef health. EGT sees the change of governance as an evolutionary process. It emphasises that discourses play a crucial role in understanding governance evolution. Power, in particular power-knowledge in the Foucaultian sense, plays a crucial role as a driving factor. Governance does not change in a vacuum, but according to EGT is shaped by path, inter- and goal dependencies. Of late, the role of materiality – ecological and technological conditions – has been stressed as an important driver of governance change. The paper considers the main threats to corals identified in the literature and analyses how those factors mentioned by EGT help us to understand the observed governance changes. The case of coral reefs was chosen as it represents an example of extremely diverse processes of institutional changes. Therefore, it is well suited to learn if EGT helps in understanding governance changes observed in the marine sector.

Schlüter, A., Vance, C., & Ferse, S. (2019). Coral reefs and the slow emergence of institutional structures for a glocal land-and sea-based collective dilemmaMarine Policy, 103505.

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑